The iPhone 6 Design is Defined by Compromises

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 4 min read

Fashion is different for all people, and what I like may be hideous to you. Taste is impossible to quantify, but on the internet everyone likes to speak in absolutes, so debates tend to devolve into "no, you're wrong!" shouting matches. Even debates over semantics turn into both sides digging in their heels further into the sand and refusing to recognize the points made by the other side.

With that said, I wanted to take a minute and explain why I think the iPhone 6/6s design is still the most boring, most obviously compromised vision of what the iPhone design should be since its inception.

The most damning thing I can say about the iPhone 6 is that it's a design defined by its compromises. Yes every piece of tech ever built has compromises, as there are physical limitations to what can be done given the technology available at the time, but I don't recall a previous iPhone design with so many blatant compromises.

An all metal body means you need to have somewhere for the antennas to actually pick up a data connection, so Apple put plastic bands across the top and bottom of the back of the phone. No one is arguing these are there because they enhance the look of the phone, they're there because the decision to go all metal everywhere else required it.

The camera bump on the back is a first for the iPhone line, and something that we Apple fans lambasted phones from other companies for doing for years. Is it a big bump? No, but it's clearly only there because the phone itself is too thin to house a capable camera.

The iPhone 6 is just a slippery line of phones. The aluminum casing is slick to the touch, and the curved sides mean that you don't have a good way to lock the phone in your hand like you could with a phone that has a more pronounced edge. This point is less a compromise for technical reasons, and more of a criticism of the fundamental way this phone was built from the start. I hate the idea of putting a case on my phone, and I was one of the ~10% of people who didn't have a case for their iPhone until I got an iPhone 6. I simply can't hold this phone confidently without some sort of cover that gives it a little grip.

And then there's the size. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the biggest 4.7 and 5.5 inch phones1 you can buy. The bezels on the top and bottom of the phones make them way taller than they need to be. I wrote about this back in 2014 when the iPhone 6 first came out and was noticeably larger than other 4.7 inch phones on the market.

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has a larger display than the iPhone and is still a smaller phone. The iPhone's excel at thinness, but the fact that it's easier for me to navigate the screen on the 5.7 inch Note 7 than my 5.5 inch iPhone 6s Plus is ridiculous.

In my eyes, all this makes me feel like the iPhone 6 line of phones is a step back from a design perspective. The iPhone 62 is not an ugly phone by any means, but I strongly feel it is a step back in almost every way. I'm very happy that Apple went with bigger screens, and the battery life offered by the 6 Plus phones is amazing. The internal specs of the phones are incredible, with the nearly 1 year old iPhone 6s still smoking the top of the line Android phones in real world usage.

But this is the first time that I wish I could have the old iPhone design with the new specs. I never for a moment thought the 4 was worse than the 3GS or that the iPhone 5 was worse than the 4/4s, but I have pined for my gold iPhone 5s since the day I got the iPhone 6.

And it's not only old iPhone designs I pine over. The HTC One M8 is my favorite smartphone design I've ever used. It was a gorgeous phone with amazing specs and I would trade my iPhone 6s Plus in a heartbeat for that phone design if I could run iOS on it. The story is the same for the Samsung Galaxy S7 (not the Edge variant), which I have been able to use on multiple occasions and can't get over how good it looks and feels in the hand. On the more playful side, the Moto X line from last year was a fun design that you could customize to be just how you wanted.

I'm not saying those other phones didn't have compromises as well or that they are perfect designs by any means, but the current iPhone is barely in my top 5 list of modern phone designs, which has never been the case before. Apple used to be the unquestioned leader in smartphone design, but I think the iPhone 6 was a step backwards for them. Again, not a clusterfuck of a design, but it's not the epitome of smartphone design.

All signs point to this year's iPhone looking and behaving largely the same as the iPhone 6, but 2017's iPhone is supposed to be a big redesign. I am content with another year of this design, but I'm not thrilled about it. I just know that I'll be ecstatic to see what Apple has up their sleeves for the iPhone 7s/8/X...whatever they call it.

  1. By surface area. 
  2. And all its variants.